Sandy’s Garden ... Twice-Flowering Magnolia

I was surveying the furlongs of shelving in the paint and varnish section of a do-it-yourself store recently.

By Sandy Simpson
Monday, 19th August 2019, 10:20 am
Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

Searching for large containers … are they still called ‘pots’? … of a particular shade of green fence paint, I was struck by how much magnolia paint was still on offer. Somehow I had persuaded myself that magnolia was very definitely the-day-before-yesterday’s colour for walls and ceilings and that no-one of less than a certain, fairly advanced age was likely to choose it. It seems that I was wrong: and had I been looking for large sizes of magnolia paint my quest would have been successful, although my hunt for very large pots of forest green fence paint ended in disappointment.

A few weeks after this incident my wife drew to my attention the flowers liberally distributed across a magnolia tree in a garden at the entrance to the street where we live, remarking that this particular tree had already carried glorious blooms in the spring and was now enjoying a second flowering season. This tree’s flowers boast attractive splashes of purple round the top edges of its essentially magnolia-coloured flowers; and, my attention having been directed towards this tree, I had a look at our own magnolia tree to discover that it, too, was sporting some new flowers, having already delighted our eyes with a magnificent floral display months ago, a display made all the more striking because, like many magnolia trees, the particular species of which we have an example produces its spring flowers before its leaves appear. I can claim that I had failed to spot the second flourish of blooms because the tree is in full leaf at this time and the flowers are somewhat hidden by the foliage: but I am rather disappointed that I had not even noticed the presence of the new flowers, although I would claim to be fairly au fait with developments in our garden. The question, “What species of magnolia tree is it?” is one which I cannot answer, for we bought it as a very small sapling not long after we bought our house and had precious little money to spend on non-essentials; so this sapling came from Woolworth’s and its label was lost aeons ago.

An American website entitled ‘How to care for a magnolia tree’ tells me that ‘Magnolia trees are native to East Asia and the Himalayas, eastern North America and Central America. They grow 40 to 80 feet tall with a spread of 30 to 40 feet. Depending upon the species, magnolias may be evergreen, semi-evergreen or deciduous. Some of the deciduous types bloom in early spring before the tree leafs out.’ Well, I know that our tree is deciduous and I don’t think it’s going to reach a height of 30 feet or more but there’s still a huge amount that I don’t know. I learn from the website of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) that: ‘Magnolia is a large genus of about 210 flowering plant species in the subfamily Magnolioideae of the family Magnoliaceae. It is named after French botanist Pierre Magnol.

Magnolia is an ancient genus … fossilized specimens have been found dating to 20 million years ago.’ Although magnolia trees are thought to have come originally from Southeast Asia and North America, they have been introduced into countries all around the world. They are happiest growing in acidic soils that are rich in nutrients where there is enough moisture and direct sunlight. That describes our tree’s position in our garden. But, since it flowered only in the spring before the leaves appeared in the past, why is it in bloom for the second time this year when the tree is in full leaf? Well, the Daily Telegraph of 17 August 2017 reported John Anderson, head gardener at Exbury Gardens in Hampshire, whose Apollo hybrid magnolia bloomed three times in twelve months, as saying: “I’m not a scientist so I can’t comment about global warming: but I have seen for myself how the seasons are changing.” Yes, could be climate change; and might our tree just be an Apollo hybrid too?